OECD urges global governments to improve plastic recycling

Plastic recycling is being held back by low recovery rates, poor quality of recycled plastic and a lack of price incentives according to a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The Improving Markets for Recycled Plastics: Trends, Prospects and Policy Responses report urges governments around the globe to act fast to encourage more recycling at a better quality.

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It attributes the lag in plastic recycling to the fact it is cheaper to create products from new plastic than it is to recycle plastic. The report also said primary plastics can be priced higher than recycled plastic, due to it usually being better quality.

Hazardous chemical additives can also survive in recycling plastics, which the report says weighs on secondary markets.

It estimates the world produces around eight times as much new plastic compared to recycled plastic.

The OECD report calls for stronger incentives to be provided for better designed plastic goods, as well as an investment in waste collection infrastructure and source separation. A product label system that shows how much recycled content is in a product was suggested to create consumer driven demand.

Heavier taxes on the manufacture of new plastics was also suggested to reduce the demand in items such as single use bags, cutlery or drinking straws.

Barriers to recycling identified by the report include the view that recycled plastics are substitutes, prices of recycled plastics being driven by oil costs instead of collection, sorting and processing, a smaller and fragmented plastics recycling sector, the market being concentrated in a few countries, and technical challenges associated with the variety of polymers and additives.

Waste plastics often remain in the environment, posing a threat to wildlife and marine creatures. Only 15 per cent of plastic waste is recycled globally, with 25 per cent being incinerated and the remainder sent to landfill according to the report.

The report will be presented at the Global forum on Environment: Sustainable Plastic Design in Copenhagen, Denmark.